Sweet Pongal (Sakkarai Pongal)

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Sakkarai Pongal is a rice and lentil pudding sweetened with jaggery, spiced with ground cardamom and tempered with cashews and raisins, a Tamil delicacy made for its eponymous festival, Pongal! This is the sweet variation of Ven Pongal, which is savory (tempered with cashews and black peppercorns), and usually made all year round.

It’s a warm, sweet and comforting pudding, and can be made as simple or as decadent as you prefer, simply by adding more ghee (clarified butter) and dry fruits and nuts. A friend of mine made this for Makar Sankrant/Pongal over a decade ago, and it still remains one of my favorite Indian desserts of all time!

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Rose Cheesecake Squares (No Bake)

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No-bake cheesecakes are a world of their own, so quick, fuss-free, make-ahead, endlessly adaptable and eggless to boot! The eggless aspect of it lends well to a lot of Indian-flavored desserts, something my sister experiments a lot with. She had once made individual no-bake cheesecakes in these clear dessert cups for a party, and they were very well received!

My love for rose and all flavors floral is well-documented on this site, so when this fruity and floral decaffeinated Blood Orange tea showed up in my Simple Loose Leaf tea box, this chilled, no-bake Rose Cheesecake seemed like a really good idea. The mild, tangy and creamy cheesecake lets the fruit and floral flavors shine, the buttery crust provides a good contrast for the sharp and bright flavors, and the coolness of the cake makes it perfect for the upcoming warm weather, where the last thing you want to do is turn on the oven!

The crust is a simple, no-bake one with Nilla wafers (or you can use graham crackers or any neutral, buttery cracker), butter and a pinch of salt. The filling is softened, whipped cream cheese, with whipped cream for extra lift, and flavored with citrus zest (I used lemon, but orange or blood orange would be even better) and rose water/extract. Assembled in the fridge for 4-6 hours, or ideally overnight, this cheesecake is ready to go in all its glory for your teatime and dessert needs – no water baths, collapsed fillings, soggy crusts.

Shall we?

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Savory Tea Biscuits (shortbread cookies with carom seeds)

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It’s not often that the world changes so dramatically in a span of just a few weeks. When I started this tea pairing challenge a few weeks ago, none of us had any idea what was coming our way. In most parts of the world at this point in time, life as we know it is upended. In some parts of the world, people are fighting for a chance to live in the resources their hospitals can afford them, while elsewhere, others are separated from their families, far far away. Such stories are normally reserved for third world countries, but it is heartening to see it happen in US and Europe. This pandemic has brought the world to its knees, and we don’t know how life will be in its wake.

Whoa, not something you would expect to read if you were browsing for a nice teatime biscuit recipe, huh? Well, it is rather uncomfortable – talking about tea and biscuits like everything is alright in the world. I’ve written myself into a corner here – there are no elegant segues from this topic to tea pairing, so I’m just going to put a pin in it for now (as we are all trying to do by self-isolating…here I go again!), and talk about my favorite thing in these bleak times: tea.

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Baked Mandazi (Swahili Sweet Bread)

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One of the things I’m loving about this tea pairing adventure with Simple Loose Leaf is the opportunity to think beyond the usual pairings that we are so comfortable with. Nothing wrong with reaching for Parle-G biscuits with your hot and sweet milk tea, but every so often you come across something so new and different, it stumps you, and in a good way.

The tea that stumped me this week, was Simple Loose Leaf Purple Jasmine Tea: a very unique blend of Tumoi purple broken leaf tea from the Nandi hills of Kenya in Africa, and Jasmine green tea, presumably to round out the intense fragrance of the purple tea. This was the first time I had purple tea, and I found it to be fragrant and very delicate. Combined with the Jasmine green tea, it took on a floral quality, and made me wonder why I had overlooked an entire continent in my tea adventures!

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Cream Cheese Cookies

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Apple Cinnamon is so quintessential “October”, I don’t think anything else can even come to mind if you tried. Especially in the US, where it is synonymous with Fall, and all things cozy, warm and annoyingly, tooth achingly sweet.

Which is why, when tasked with pairing this bold, rich and fragrant “Apple Cinnamon Black Tea” by Simple Loose Leaf, I turned to one of my favorite fall-themed cakes for inspiration: apple cinnamon cake with brown sugar cream cheese frosting. The tea brings the Apple and Cinnamon to the table, and the Cream Cheese Cookies you see on the top, bedazzled with turbinado sugar, do the rest!

These are actually simple sugar cookies, transformed by King Arthur flour into something much more complex (yet retaining all of the ease) with the addition of cream cheese and almond extract, adapted again, for simplicity, by Smitten Kitchen.

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Cinnamon Sugar and Chai Spice Khari (puff pastry twists)

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I ramble about tea, or something tea related, in most of my posts. Many of the things I make are tea accompaniments – this is simply because “teatime” is sacred around here. And it is sacred in many other parts of the world – something we’ve learned and experienced in our travels.

One of the most classic teatime accompaniments back home in India is “Khari”. In essence these are baked puff pastry rectangles, sometimes flavored with roasted cumin or caraway seeds. But the best kind of Khari is plain, buttery and delicious. Dipped into hot and spicy milk tea, it is one of the highest callings for butter and flour pounded together.

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